You came from the north, I from the south-east.
This morning you stayed tucked up in your warm, subterranean bed while I struggled out of mine into a cold room shared with Dora and Liz. We three arrived here the same day and after chatting while lying on our bunks seem like old friends.
The weather and heavy work require constant appeasing so the rest of the team is busy stowing away hot food around the dining table when we sit down. After breakfast everyone squeezes into the van for the drive to Howe farm. Louise, the driver, is also the cook. “You girls” she rolls her eyes as we gobble and laugh through breakfast, then run up and down the stairs grabbing coats, hats and gloves to be ready in time. Nigel is in charge of us at work and we giggle and twist the words of the popular song, singing “we’re only digging holes for Nigel” as we jitter along the gravel road.
It’s a fluke I meet you at all. I’ve had the advertisement ripped out of the magazine for over a year before I apply. But Time Team is still 13 years away and this dig seems keen to take all comers.
It’s April and the beginning of the season, but no-one has told the weather that. Cocooned in layers of clothing we work happily despite the wind and occasional drizzle. It’s easier to work with no gloves, but our hands become too cold as the afternoons draw on.
At the weekends Dora, Liz and I visit places you’ve probably been. We stroll around Skara Brae, look out at Scapa Flow and shop in Kirkwall. We bike and walk, gorge on Orkney tablet and cream cakes, laugh, and enjoy the fresh Atlantic air. Then we return to the Victorian gloom of Nist House, walk down the long drive and join the warmth and welcome of the digging team. All the time you just lie there waiting.
Each day we chat and laugh as we work, completely wrapped up in this time and place. Of course we’ve had finds before. An excited call and over we go, eager to see, speculate and learn. Each time, under Nigel’s instruction and feeling self-consciously scientific we set the theodolite to plot the location of the treasure.
Today Liz and I are working in the same trench. Side by side we patiently worry away at the earth, fantasising about what Louise might be cooking for tea that night. The wind is blowing as it usually is, but as we’re kneeling to work the sides of the trench protect us. As my trowel lifts the layers of earth I’m hypnotised by the routine. I’m contented in my own, warm world of friendship and relish the privilege at being in this faraway place.
Eventually you and I meet when I scrape the earth with my trowel and feel the gentle strength of something beneath. Excited I lean closer as I scrape more gently. Another sliver of mud and I catch a peek of you. I stop, relax and gaze at what has been revealed after hundreds of years of hiding. Now I understand what I’m doing here, and what “seeing the world” really means. I’m so entranced I almost forget to call to the others and just sit staring. Eventually Nigel lifts you out of your bed and Liz and I plot your location for posterity.